The inaugural Data for Black Lives convening brought together community organizers, researchers, and community members to discuss issues, strategize, and build plans to create and present data to serve organizing efforts for racial justice. The convening was a huge success, with large plenaries attended by hundreds of people in person and many more on livestream, and breakout groups focusing on specific areas of work. In particular, the Education Justice Pre-Conference Session generated new relationships, conversations and ideas about how data can support groups organizing in Black communities.
Convened by the Education Justice Research Organizing Collaborative (EJ-ROC) at the NYU Metro Center, the session was facilitated by Richard Gray of NYU Metro Center, and Zakiyah Ansari of Alliance for Quality Education. Richard started the conversation, challenging us all with the fundamental question: “How do we do justice to data in a way that’s respectful, telling powerful stories that represent real lives to make the change we want to make?” Understanding the ways that data has been used against Black communities historically, this session sought to be intentional about shifting that narrative and dynamic to place those communities that are most impacted by educational inequities at the center of shaping what data is sought, and what story we tell with that data.
Zakiyah, whose organizing experience has taught her to be wary of the misuse of data by those seeking to profit off of marginalized communities, and conscious of the importance of data being available to impacted people, called us to reclaim the word ‘data’: “The ed reformers have used data to label teachers bad, to close our schools. We want to reclaim big data to connect to our experiences. We want to arm our people with data to mobilize and take action.”
Yeshimabeit Milner, founder and director of Data for Black Lives, set the stage, telling of her experience as a youth and community organizer doing survey research for a campaign with Power U Center for Social Change in Miami to demonstrate how Black and Latino students were being disproportionately and unfairly disciplined and criminalized in schools. Yeshimabeit shared how this research led her to understand the need for data to support racial justice organizing work, in this case to show that the issue is widespread and egregious.
Yeshimabeit was followed by Charles Payne, Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University and education and movement scholar. Dr. Payne brought a historical perspective to the work, showing how organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) strategically sought research to back up their organizing work around voting rights in the South. Dr. Payne then shared how Chicago public schools collect rich data from parents, teachers and students that examines the strengths and weaknesses of the schools beyond test scores. Payne argued that such complex data is necessary to shift racist ideas and change ineffective educational practices in Black and Brown communities.
This use of data serves equity interests of low-income Black and Brown communities by challenging the deficit ideas that lead to low expectations for students from these communities, but it is also difficult work. In addition to getting better data to understand these complex issues, Dr. Payne shared his experience of working with parents to conduct research themselves—talking with their neighbors and analyzing the data together—to put them in the driver’s seat, develop their consciousness, and bring their analysis to bear on issues of education policy. This kind of leadership development is essential, Dr. Payne reflected, as the lack of emphasis on effective leadership and parent engagement across the country means that reforms continue to be implemented ineffectively when stakeholders don’t fully buy-in and participate.
These presentations were followed by small group discussions in the World Cafe format, where participants discussed strategies, opportunities and challenges for researchers and organizers working together for education justice. In these discussions, participants reflected on the ways that researchers can responsibly support organizing efforts by centering the needs and interests of Black and Brown communities. This means researchers need to have critical understandings of the root causes of inequity as well as a deep respect for the leadership of people from communities that are most impacted by such inequities. From this starting point, research can be responsive to the campaigns identified by community organizations, providing relevant data to inform and strengthen this work.
Participants also talked about areas of study where research is particularly needed, and how impacted communities can together reclaim data to work for them. For example, many participants felt there was a need to examine how neighborhoods are changing because of gentrification, and connect that to educational policy changes, school closures, and privatization. As the groups came back together, it was clear that the new ideas, relationships and plans would lead to important research for future campaigns looking at a range of topics including charter school cohort graduation rates, the impacts of gentrification, teacher demographics, policing in schools, opportunity gaps, school funding, and much moreSuch research is designed to serve organizing for racial justice.
The groups concluded by creating Hashtags such as:
This commentary is by Julia Daniel, a doctoral student doing research with the National Education Policy Center. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of any group with which she is affiliated.
Julia Daniel is a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice at The University of Colorado Boulder, and is a doctoral student researcher at The National Education Policy Center.